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Naomi Scales and Marilyn Jordan of MarFran Cleaning: Lessons I Learned From My Military Experience About How To Survive And Thrive During A Time Of Crisis

Assess the level of crisis and identify the main reason for the crisis. It helps with your emotional stress level, so remain leveled-headed and don’t take things personal.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Naomi W. Scales and Marilyn J. Jordan.

Naomi W. Scales and Marilyn J. Jordan, co-authors of From Pain to Love: Our Journey Outside the Rainbow as well as co-owners of MarFran Cleaning, LLC.

Naomi W. Scales was born in Helena, AR, and raised in Chicago. She attended the Bishop College for first year of college, and later transferred to University of Central Arkansas. She is married to Marilyn J. Jordan. Naomi is a veteran of the armed forces and Marilyn is duly ordained through American Marriage Ministry, with an emphasis on same sex marriages. They are the co-authors of From Pain to Love: Our Journey Outside the Rainbow as well as co-owners of MarFran Cleaning, LLC, located in Houston, Texas. Founded in 2006, the business offers janitorial services, lawn care, and general contracting, both locally and nationally. They have expanded their business to include two additional companies, MarFran-Apex and MarFran Communication. An award-winning business, MarFran was recognized as the 2017 LGBTQ Veteran-Owned company of the year by NaVOBA (National Veteran-Owned Business Association) as well as the recipient of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce 2021 Pride in Business LGBTQ Business of the Year award. MarFran has ranked in the top 5 of LGBTQ-owned companies by the Houston Business Journal for three straight years. Both women have appeared as invited guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where they shared their experiences and expertise with the viewers and studio audiences. Find out more at naomiwscalesandmarilynjjordan.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I grew up in the projects on the south side of Chicago and was the middle child of three — one older brother and a younger sister. We went to Arkansas after school to stay with our grandmother. I was raised by a single mom and my grandmother, along with lots of aunts, cousins and my grandmother.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I am the owner of a facility maintenance company located in Houston. When we started the company, we mainly focused on janitorial services. We now have expanded to other facility services, such as lawn care, construction management and pest control. We have always thought janitorial was an essential service that would always be needed. The pandemic has really exemplified the importance of that.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I joined the military after 4.5 years of college. I was much older than most of the recruits in my company. My specialty rating was a Yeoman, which is a supply payroll specialists. I advanced to the rank of E5 within four years.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

The most interesting thing that happened to me, in my military career happened in my very first day of boot camp. This experience would be the one factor that shaped my will and determination to succeed. I was not a good swimmer but told my recruiter I could swim. I swam in the local pool during the summer but I was not a good swimmer and never swam in the deep end of the pool. When I jumped off a 20-foot platform into the deep end of the pool, I hit the water and lost my breath, while struggling to make it to the top. The swimming commanding officer jumped in the water to rescue me. He was very angry that I had lied about my swimming ability. I thought I could do it because I could doggy-paddle. He threatened to send me back home but I promised him I would learn to swim and not fall behind with my company. The takeaway from that story is I needed to be in the military because I was struggling with my life at that time and was determined to succeed if just given a chance to prove myself. I have been proving myself since then. I gave my swimmer commander my promise and kept my word.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during our military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

Being in the Coast Guard was a unique experience. Our mission was heroic every day that we went out. The call of distress was our mission. Every time one of our crewmembers went on a survival call, we all understood they had to go out but it was no guarantee to return. I was in awe of our rescue swimmers and airmen. My part in that mission was to make sure their families had what they needed, so that our crew men could do their job with worrying about their families.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

A hero is a person choosing to take the risk to help others without the fear of harm to themselves. Every day I worked with a unit of heroes and that was my biggest source of pride.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

Absolutely, my leadership started early in the military. I was the oldest recruit in my company and my fellow recruits navigated to me for wisdom they thought I had. I never wanted to send them in the wrong direction, so I prepared myself every day to be a sounding board, a mother figure, a toughness coach, because those eight weeks of our lives were very hard. For most them, this was first time they were away from home. As the leader of our company, I worked hard every day to put my employees, vendors, and customers in the best scenario for success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Of course, that person is my best friend, business partner, and wife, Marilyn. She has been by my side since my days in the military and through the start of our business. She is detail orientated, a great communicator, and those strengths have been vital to our success. When we started the business, Marilyn had a full-time job. Since we didn’t have any financing, Marilyn was our primary funding. While waiting for payments from our customers, we would need funds for payroll. We had a couple exceptional employees in the beginning, who were excited to be a part of our company. They worked hard and did excellent work, which led us to obtaining more business because of their performances. They understood we were new and they patiently waited if payday was a day late.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

A crisis is a problem looking for a solution.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

A business should try to navigate problems as much as possible, by having your standard operating procedures in place like a safety plan, hazard plan, and work plans, etc. Train your personnel and equip them with the tools they need. But even with that, things can go off the rail. That’s where you need a dedicated crew of responders, those that are willing to go in at any time and any place to solves issues. This sometimes takes a while for a company to have the people and resources to do that. As the owner, you have to be prepared to do it.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

In any crisis, the first thing to do is to assess the damage or potential damages. It’s at that point where you determine the tools that are needed to make corrective actions or be prepared for losses. Some crisis can lead to the loss of employees or customers. Those type of losses are the hardest because its personal.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

Organization, risk assessment, resolution conflict skills, personnel and supporting resources are needed to survive a crisis.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I’m more of a “doer.” Marilyn truly believes in the three P’s: People, Process, and Procedures. She is constantly looking ahead and upward for all possibilities. She is a very good listener and always hears things with a third ear.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Yes, I have many setbacks in my life from personal to business. The start of this business came out of necessity. My mother was diagnosed at an early age with dementia. Her illness strengthened me far beyond the strength I knew I had. The courage she showed battling that disease forced me to step out on faith. Early in the business, we faced IRS issues. That was a quick lesson in humility. I felt like a failure and like I was letting my family and employees down. I thought I was smarter than that but I had allowed us to be placed in a scary position for the survival of company.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Assess the level of crisis and identify the main reason for the crisis. It helps with your emotional stress level, so remain leveled-headed and don’t take things personal.
  2. Prepare yourself as much as possible. Having the fundamental things in place can help migrate the crisis. Always be ready to attempt to assimilate many possible scenarios. There will always be things that you just can’t predict. Don’t panic.
  3. Put a team in place that are prepared to help you with actions, personnel, plans and resources.
  4. Be prepared to recover with as little interruption to operation as possible.
  5. Be fearless and breathe.

Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We are women of a certain age and are approaching our sixties. We started our business after the age of 40 and came out after the age of 50. Live life at every stage of it and remember that the good old days are the days of creating memories.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

Wow, that’s a good one. For me, it would probably be Mark Cuban, and for Marilyn, it’d be Oprah and Michelle Obama.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @Naomisca, Instagram: @wilma23 @blacklikemarilyn

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly up-lifting.

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